It’s a rarity to find a baseball player who can truly do it all. White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease proved that not only can he take a no-hitter into the fifth inning while striking out 11, but he can also drive the ball to the opposite field.
Prior to Chicago’s 9-0 win at Great American Ball Park on Tuesday night, the right-hander didn’t have a professional plate appearance. But because of Interleague Play and the White Sox playing in a National League stadium, Cease was due to stand in the batter’s box against Major League pitching for the first time in his career.
The last time Cease saw live pitching was during his senior year of high school in 2014, but three Reds pitchers couldn’t figure out how to keep right-handed-hitting Cease from making solid contact.
“I believe in myself as a hitter, to be honest. I didn’t think I was going to go out and do that today, but leading up, I was just very excited to get at-bats,” Cease said. “But I truly don’t know how it happened.”
In his first career plate appearance, Cease’s bat got on top of a chest-high four-seam fastball from Jeff Hoffman and smacked it to Mike Moustakas at third base, who staggered onto the outfield grass to make an attempt at a play.
Cease’s infield grounder kept the second inning alive for Tim Anderson to drive in two runs, which extended Chicago’s lead to three. At the start of the inning, José Abreu had homered to get the White Sox on the board first.
Cease’s second career at-bat was enough to get the White Sox dugout cheering before the ball even landed. He initially squared around to bunt against José De León, but he switched gears quickly enough to hit a towering fly ball that missed a home run by a couple of feet.
“I did [think it was a home run],” Cease said of the double. “I would have tried to have kept the grin off my face, but I think I would have had a grin … all the way around on the basepath.”
In his third and final at-bat of the night, Cease hit an opposite-field single against Sal Romano to load the bases once more for the White Sox. He ended the night with a career slash line of 1.000/1.000/1.333.
The 25-year-old became the fourth pitcher in the Expansion Era (since 1961) to record a hit in each of his first three plate appearances, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, joining Steven Matz (2015), T.J. Tucker (2000-02) and Larry Miller (1964). And with Atlanta’s Huascar Ynoa hitting a grand slam in a 6-1 win over the Nationals, it’s the first time in 71 years that one pitcher had three hits and a pitcher in a different game homered with the bases loaded.
In the week leading up to Tuesday’s game, Cease took batting practice with the team’s best hitters to prepare for his hitting debut.
“He was doing his thing on his own. He had been hitting all week. Kudos to him, three hits — that’s tough to do in the big leagues,” Anderson, who went 2-for-5, said. “He made it look easy.”
But the night still continued on the mound for Cease following his third at-bat. He wrapped up his outing with a 1-2-3 sixth inning and struck out five of the last six batters he faced.
The right-hander added another stellar outing to his impressive season by not allowing a run in six innings and recording a career-high 11 strikeouts.
“He actually pitched better than he hit,” manager Tony La Russa said. “It’s kind of hard to believe.”
While Cease may not be the hitter the White Sox envisioned to fill the void of Luis Robert, the team effort behind the win was a reminder that Chicago does have the talent to overcome the adversity it’s faced thus far.
“That was some demonstration of, ‘We’re going to go forward and see how good we can be,’” La Russa said. “And stay in contention until [Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez] join us.”